Every family has them. Some might call them comfort zones, others label them habits or even peculiarities. Most we learned while still in our highchairs but we develop a few on our own and maybe pick up one or two from friends. What the heck am I talking about? Why food rules of course.
You won’t find them in any book. If you are a newcomer to a family, no one will, or even can, give you a list. You just have to figure it out as you go along. Here are a few from my family:
If you are having lobster, you need potato chips. And PLEASE, none of those with artificial flavoring so they taste like chemicals or imitation barbecue sauce or dill pickles. Only simple, ordinary, kettle cooked chips with salt will do.
Another lobster rule; there will be no pickle juice in the lobster salad, just a little mayonnaise. My dad codified this one about the time he asked my mother to marry him. Mom’s dad always added a little pickle juice to the lobster salad. He probably thought he was being fancy. Anyway, Mom didn’t care one way or the other; she was in love and accepted that she and her soon-to-be husband would create their own rules. I confess; I sidestep this rule. Heaven forbid I should break it but I add a little lemon and fresh tarragon or basil to my lobster salad. So far, no one has objected.
Pie for breakfast is a favorite family tradition started, as far as we know, by my Great-Grandpa Nye. The rule is simple, if there is a piece of leftover pie, the first one up in the morning can have it for breakfast. Interestingly enough, this rule does not apply to cake or any other dessert, only pie. That said, our cousin Virginia used to give my sister and me chocolate cake for breakfast. She was Great Grandpa Nye’s niece so the rules might have varied slightly on her other side of the family. Anyway, I’m looking forward to a piece of leftover blueberry crostata this morning.
Speaking of pie, always order it à la mode in a restaurant. That way, if the pie isn’t any good, you can still enjoy the ice cream. I’m not sure if it’s a rule but it’s good advice from my Grandpa Nye.
At Thanksgiving, regardless of what Martha and the FDA say, you put the stuffing in the bird not in a separate baking dish. (However, for safety sake, cool the stuffing completely, refrigerate until cold and then stuff the bird minutes before tossing it in the oven.) In the various Nye households, you are expected to make my mother’s bread stuffing, the one with the apple. I broke that rule soon after I moved back to the US from Switzerland. While away, I developed a few of my own Thanksgiving traditions, including a delicious wild rice and mushroom stuffing. Since I love my family and having Thanksgiving at my house, I accept the constant reminders of the stuffing-with-apple rule. There are at least four or five of them and start around Halloween.
Whether it’s roast beef or tenderloin, it’s rare. If it’s steak, it’s on the grill and still rare. You should never, ever ruin good beef with steak sauce. If your steaks are somehow missing something, buy a better cut. If you can’t afford a better cut, go without. In case you’re wondering, burgers are also rare and preferably on the grill.
Now, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Once started, I can probably go all day. Or maybe not. Truth be told, most food rules are so deeply ingrained that we don’t even think of them as rules. It’s only by chance that we discover that not everyone does it our way. Like the time I was invited for lobster. Imagine my surprise when my friends served potato salad alongside the bright red crustaceans. Of course, these friends are not native New Englanders but transplants from upstate New York.
Whether you follow the rules or break them, have a delicious summer and bon appétit!
Show your family and friends that you aren’t stuck in a rule rut with this tasty alternative to a traditional blueberry pie. Enjoy! Serves 6-8
1/4 cup or to taste brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 ounces blueberries (about 3 cups)
Grated zest of 1 lime or lemon
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier (optional)
1 tablespoon cold butter, cut in tiny pieces
1-2 tablespoons cream
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Put the brown sugar, cornstarch and spices in a small bowl and whisk to combine.
Put the blueberries, zest and Grand Marnier in a bowl and toss to combine. Add the sugar mixture and toss again to combine and coat.
Dust your work surface with flour and roll out the dough into a rough 12-inch circle. Carefully transfer the dough to a 9-inch glass or ceramic tart pan. Pile the blueberries on top of the dough and dot with butter. Gently fold the edge of the dough over the fruit and brush the dough with cream.
Alternatively, you can skip the tart pan and place the dough on a sheet pan. (You may want to roll your dough out to a 10-inch circle. When baked this way, the crostata is apt to break as it cooks if the dough is too thin.) Leaving a 2-3 inch border, mound the blueberries in the center of the dough and dot with butter. Gently fold the edge of the dough over the fruit and brush the dough with cream.
Bake the crostata for 45 minutes or until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. Serve warm or at room temperature.
1 cup all-purpose flour and more for rolling out the dough
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold butter, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, cold and cut into pieces
3-4 tablespoons ice water
Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and shortening and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Add the ice water, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, and process until the dough comes together in a ball. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic or parchment paper and chill until firm enough to roll, at least 30 minutes.
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Three Years Ago – Grilled Chicken Salad Provencal
Four Years Ago – Lobster with Corn, Tomato & Arugula Salad
Five Years Ago – Greek Green Beans
Six Years Ago – Blueberry Pie
Seven Years Ago – Grilled Lamb
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Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015